Thursday, 2 June 2016

PRIDE OF PLACE: Di Miggle Room holds a funny mix of hard life and tough love

TIME OF HER LIFE: Hazle (seen with castmates) gives a scene-stealing performance in the show.

Di Miggle Room (Church Yaad Productions)
Director: Craig McNally 
Cast: Stephanie Hazle, Shawna-Lee Shedden, Jaida Browne and John Chambers
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, New Kingston

When it comes to tenement-yard living in Jamaica, almost anything goes. That’s certainly the case in Di Miggle Room, an occasionally laugh-out-loud funny comedy/domestic drama/musical that explores the often harsh and hopeless realities facing people in some of the toughest, most poverty-stricken communities we tend to ignore. Throw into the mix the scourge of the crime monster, culture clashes, classism, prejudice, religious hypocrisy and a barrel of tough love, and you have a massive cocktail that’s bound to explode when shaken and stirred.

Written and directed by Craig McNally, a creative artist of some repute, the play is centred on a group of ‘yardies’ grappling with everything from domestic and child abuse to money woes and relationship drama. We meet Ava (Shawna-Lee Shedden), the hot-tempered common-law wife who is being battered by her thuggish lover Dave (Olando Dempster) and takes out her frustration on her young son Gary (Anthony Dixon). There’s Laverne (Beverly Hendrick), the fiery knicks-and-knacks vendor who relentlessly bullies her young niece Kerene (Jaida Browne).

Then there’s Michael (John Chambers), the rooster of these premises, playing hide-and-seek with the mother of his five children Daphne (Shanon Haldane), a young lady with a few screws missing. Not to mention Laverne’s extravagant sistren Kimmy (Charmaine Chango-Headley), who walks in reverse to keep duppies from trailing her.

It’s a rather colourful mix of recognizable Jamaican types, and they are all struggling to make ends meet and foot the bills, including the rent. Enter Mrs. Brooks (Stephanie Hazle), a snooty upper St. Andrew Betty and pastor’s wife, who looks like she just stepped off the plane fresh from Martha’s Vineyard. Fed up with being associated with such a low-down community, she drops a bombshell on her tenants: she’s selling the property so they’ll soon have to deal with new owners.

Next to the hurricane-hellish set design (litter galore), a whiff of mystery surrounds the whole thing, having to do with property’s ‘middle room’, which has been barred shut and has remained unoccupied for quite some time. But apparently it’s a hot item, as everybody’s been asking about it, wanting to move in.

Will the ruthless Mrs. Brooks have a change of heart and leave the property as is? Will these residents ever find the happiness they’re all so desperately hunting for? Will Michael finally do right by Daphne? While McNally displays a keen ear for dialogue (via the Jamaican language, in particular) and a talent for spinning witty, in-the-streets drama and fleshing out his characters, he wraps up their storylines a bit too neatly. As a result, the overall resolution lacks the oomph we were anticipating.

Still, the show’s solid blend of catchy intermittent musical numbers and highly commendable acting performances go a long way in making it an entertaining watch. You can vividly see that Hazle (who has firm JMTC roots) is morphing into a formidable leading lady, with a knack for making that whole singing-talking double act seem effortless. She gets strong support from the cast, comprised mainly of fresh faces who show real promise.

And that’s an ideal description for McNally’s work, which reveals a range of passions and influences, spanning the comic, the dramatic and the musically lyrical. McNally is a genuine artistic talent and, looking ahead, we’re sure there’s lots more where Di Miggle Room came from. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

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